Toxic Cultures: The Workplace Bully

The pit in your stomach that starts to form on Sunday night. Being disengaged at home. A preoccupation with how you are treated at work. A slow erosion of your self-worth.

Years ago, I planned to write a book titled, "Who Raised You? Did You Mean to Say That Out Loud?". I felt there should be a chapter titled, "Middle School Bullies are Bad: Adult Bullies are Worse."

Adult bullies represent entitlement in its most extreme form. Adult bullies are not courageous for the way they treat people, and those of us who have felt the wrath of a bully are not weak for being upset. It is the bully who is weak. It is the bully who shows a lack of emotional intelligence, empathy, or common human decency.

In our every day lives, we can choose to either engage with a bully or not. We can decide to sever ties with people who consistently bully us. In the workplace, it isn’t that simple.

From my experience and research into toxic work cultures, I have learned a lot about this trend of workplace bullies. Here is what I have discovered:

1. Workplace bullies are often (but not always) leaders or people with influence. They have no sense of what it truly means to be a strong leader. Instead, they have decided that their power position allows them the privilege of chronic finger-pointing when something goes wrong. Additionally, they feel no obligation to consider either the needs or the effects their behaviors have on the team.

2. Workplace bullies are often not confronted by people in power because they intimidate their leaders and colleagues.

3. The workplace bully's lack of approachability leads to severe breakdowns in communication that prevent meaningful resolution.

4. Abusive behaviors lead to the loss of valuable people and productivity.

What can leaders do to prevent workplace bullies?

1. Remember that leadership is a privilege. If you lack the courage to confront and appropriately handle abusive behavior, you need to rethink your effectiveness.

2. What are you pretending not to know? When you watch your work buddy plow over their staff, do you find yourself justifying their behavior because of their contributions or knowledge base, even if you know the organization would run perfectly fine without them?

3. Check your metrics. Do you need to improve quality or productivity? Do you need to reduce turnover or absenteeism? Follow the breadcrumbs. There’s a strong possibility those breadcrumbs will lead you directly to the workplace bully.

4. Quit pointing the finger. As a leader, the buck stops with you. Perhaps standing up for your team and assuring them you have their back isn't enough incentive to clean-up your toxic work environment. If not, consider why you receive a higher salary, the title, the office, the accolades, and the power to make decisions.

5. Do not promote people simply because of their influence, job knowledge, or seniority. Promote people whom you know can lead in a meaningful and effective manner.

Your organization needs leaders who dare to do the right thing and understand that you earn respect. It needs leaders who do not turn a blind eye to poor treatment and the diminishment of your people.

It isn't just about the numbers. It's about human beings maintaining their dignity, happiness, and sense of self-worth. It is an honor to provide that to the people who are showing up and doing their best.

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